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Belgian Secretary of Defence visits F-16 deployment in Afghanistan

August 3, 2005 (by Dirk A. Geerts) - The Belgian Secretary of Defence - A. Flahaut - visited Afghanistan on July 22nd till 24th, where he paid a visit to the Belgian troops, contributing to the "ISAF" (International Security Assistance Force) 'peace force' under NATO command in Kondoz and Kabul.

Belgian Secretary of Defence A. Flahaut arriving at Kabul International Airport (Afghanistan) on July 23rd, 2005 for a visit to the ISAF operation "Eastern Eagle 1" with Belgian and Dutch F-16AM's operating together under a EEAW (European Expeditionary Air Wing). [Photo by Dirk A. Geerts]

Currently, Belgium has approximately 363 military personnel in Afghanistan at three locations. The Netherlands have deployed 503 personnel for ISAF operations at four locations and about 228 for operation "Enduring Freedom".

The objective of the ISAF troops consisting of 8,000 military personnel (from 36 countries) is to maintain security in and around Kabul, to support the Afghan transitional government and to bring peace and stability in the Afghan territory. In anticipation of the parliamentary elections taking place September 18th, 2005 an expansion of the ISAF capacity is expected.

Belgium participates to this ISAF peace force since March of 2002, when the first C-130 left for Karachi (Pakistan) to ensure logistical support. In March of 2003, 160 Belgians participated in securing "KAIA" (Kabul International Airport) under a German/Dutch command.

Since the beginning of 2004 Belgium has also contributed a military unit for the first "PRT" (Provincial Reconstruction Team) at Kondoz (northern Afghanistan) under German command, responsible for the handling (planning, loading and unloading) of aircraft. Belgium also contributes with staff personnel, a communication and transmission team, as well as explosive clearance specialists. Kondoz is at approximately 300 km from Kabul. This is an equivalent of a ten hour drive on the local roads. By air, both cities can be reached within +/-45 minutes.

At the end of 2004 one C-130H Hercules was permanently stationed at Kabul and used for logistical flights. Subsequently to a request by "SACEUR" (Supreme Allied Commander Europe), Belgium deployed four F-16s (3 aircraft + 1 spare) to the Dutch detachment, particularly as a deterrent and for eventual firepower from the air to the ISAF troops.

ISAF VII at Kabul is currently under command of a Turkish Colonel. Turkey has actually three S-70A Blackhawk and one C-130E Hercules stationed at the international airport. The Turkish contingent will be replaced by two helicopters of the Italian Marine at the end of July 2005 and by one additional helicopter at the beginning of September 2005, as well as by three CH-47 Chinook of the Italian Force in August. As from August 1st, 2005 Portugal will take over the Turkish command over the airport KAIA with ISAF VIII.

Under the codename operation "Eastern Eagle" an F-16 detachment is present at KIAI. Since April 1st, 2005 the Netherlands deployed four F-16AM's for a one year period. The first Fighting Falcons and pilots of 312 sqn came from Volkel AB to be relieved in July of 2005 by military personnel of Leeuwarden AB. On July 14th, 2005 the Dutch detachment was transformed into a "EEAW" (European Expeditionary Air Wing) consisting of 165 military personnel, 65 of which Belgians (pilots of the 2nd Wing and 10th Wing, military personnel of the 1st Wing, BKoks and Comopsair). In October of 2005 the Belgian 2nd Wing pilots will be relieved by their colleagues of the 10th Wing from Kleine Brogel AB.

This EEAW was enabled by the Belgian deployment of an F-16 detachment for six months to Afghanistan. On July 6th, 2005 six F-16AM of the 2nd Wing departed Florennes AB heading for Akinci AB (Turkey). The "TOA" (Transfer of Authority) was however delayed because the KDC-10 of the Dutch Air Force was stranded on Aruba with technical problems. Only by July 12th, 2005 the ferry flight to Kabul succeeded by four F-16s owing to the aerial refuelling by a C-135FR tanker of the French Air Force above the Black Sea.

The principal tasks of the Belgian/Dutch detachment in the framework of the "EPAF" (European Participating Air Forces) will be "CAS" (Close Air Support), "QRF" (Quick Reaction Force) and "REC" (Reconnaissance) flights. A punctual cooperation is indispensable for the operational purposes such as mission planning, intelligence and operations management as well as for the joint maintenance of the aircraft.

To carry out the different flights above Afghanistan the F-16s are equipped in a standard way with a LANTIRN Targeting Pod, detection and protection systems, a 20 mm Vulcan cannon, 2 external fuel tanks of 300 gallons each, complemented by two AIM-9L sidewinders and two GBU-12 laser-guided bombs.

For Belgium this is the first participation to a peace operation force outside of Europe, which is why the Commander of the Air Component - Gen-Maj VL. M. Audrit - as well as the Secretary of Defence - A. Flahaut - described this mission as one of the most important in the history of Belgian Air Force.

Additional images:

Welcome at Kabul International Airport "KAIA", home of the E.E.A.W. with operation Eastern Eagle 1 consisting of 6x F-16AM's and 2 spares seen on July 23rd, 2005. [Photo by Dirk A. Geerts]

A Belgian F-16AM from the 2nd wing over Afghanistan during the first mission in July of 2005. [BAF photo by VADOR]

A BAF F-16AM is taking off from KAIA (Kabul International Airport) in July of 2005. [Photo by P. Bogaert/Belgian Defence]